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Indonesia oil well fire kills 15 people, injures dozens

International Desk : A newly drilled, unregulated oil well caught fire as people were trying to collect the oil early Wednesday, burning to death at least 15 people and injuring dozens of others.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the well in Pasi Putih village in eastern Aceh province ignited about 1.30 a.m. and is still burning.

Five nearby houses were burned in the inferno.

He said the well, drilled to a depth of about 250 meters (820 feet), was gushing when it ignited and many people were around it trying to collect the oil.

The local arm of the disaster agency said 11 people had died and about 40 people were hurt.

“I woke up when a very loud explosion shook our house like an earthquake,” said 16-year-old resident Riska Sri Maulidyawati. “All our neighbors ran out to see what happened, but another loud explosion made everyone run away in panic,” she said.

“Everyone was shouting ‘Fire! Fire!’ I also heard people screaming in pain and asking for help,” Maulidyawati said. “Children crying and women shouting in panic. It was really scary for me,” she said.

Edi Gunawan, director of a local hospital, told Indonesian television that those hospitalized have burns over between 20 and 60 percent of their bodies.

Several victims in serious condition have been transferred to a larger hospital, he said.

The national disaster agency described the well as “traditional,” likely meaning it had unclear ownership and was used by the local community.

Aceh, at the north tip of the island of Sumatra, has significant commercially untapped natural gas reserves and is dotted with illegal wells.

Maulidyawati said that in the past several days many people had come to the village to collect oil from the recently drilled well.

“We fled to my relative’s house away from the fire location. We would not dare to return because the fire is not extinguished yet and we afraid of more explosions,” she said.